Monthly Archives: May 2017

The key to a solicitor’s career success? Creating connections

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By Juliet Kele, Doctoral Student and Teaching Fellow, WERD

Employment lawyers regularly counsel and advise both employers and employees on a diverse matter of workplace related issues, but do they ever reflect upon the employment relationship, and inclusive working practices within their own firms? Historically, the legal profession has been perceived as an ‘old boys club’ – and can still be argued as such in modern times. The senior positions in most law firms are filled with middle-aged, white men (‘male, pale and stale’). These issues have animated my research in aiming to discover whether a smaller law firm size has a favourable impact upon the career progression of female and ethnic-minority lawyers.

The findings of this research reveal that while smaller law firms were thought to have a more supportive culture than larger firms – in terms of implementing flexible-working initiatives and being ‘family-friendly’ employers – lawyers with high levels of social capital were looked upon more favourably at each career progression round.

Using interviews conducted within Yorkshire small and medium-sized legal practices (firms with fewer than 250 employees), my research considers how career progression is experienced by a diverse range of employees and the factors perceived to influence career progression in this context. My analysis shows that a crucial factor perceived as having a positive effect upon career progression – regardless of the smaller firm size – was that of having high levels of social capital: favourable connections and networks.

Some individuals acknowledged their ‘luck’ of good connections – for example, paralegals being able to move companies with their supervisors – and individuals gaining their current position through connections or recommendations. Moreover, it was felt that in smaller law firms, competing against fewer colleagues, individuals may be able to foster a closer mentoring and sponsorship relationship with supervisors than in larger businesses. This, in turn, may be beneficial to career advancement as management come to recognise and acknowledge the efforts of their staff.

Part of a solicitor’s work responsibilities is the development of connections and constant networking. These are highly-desirable skills, not only for the business interests of the company but are also for accelerating the speed of career progression. However, my research demonstrates this may be easier for some groups than for others.

While the smaller law firms were considered to have more supportive cultures than larger firms, for female lawyers aspiring to progress their careers, as reported by the Law Society Gazette, one main stumbling block endured: the choice between career and family. The general impression was that there were still ‘fairly limited opportunities’ for progression in law firms for female employees who wished to have families. Due to familial responsibilities, they felt unable to commit to the extensive demands on their time in terms of networking in connection to both servicing existing and generating new clients, often known as ‘rainmaking’.

Female employees admitted that being a woman in the legal profession was ‘difficult’. Although they had invested heavily into their legal education, they still felt that their colleagues expected them to have children. While some female employees thought that they should not have to choose between prioritising family and work, others said that there was still a ‘sacrifice’ to be made for women in the legal profession. Moreover, two female solicitors directly stated that being pregnant was a career obstacle and disadvantage they had experienced.

Similarly, minority ethnic lawyers also had greater levels of commitments outside of work; either relating to religious observations, responsibilities to both their close and extended families and in assisting their wider communities. The legal profession itself was criticised: with long-working hours and frequent late-nights, networking and weekend work, maintaining a work-life balance was challenging – as one respondent said: ‘something’s got to give’. The opportunity cost here is deciding whether to dedicate more time to family life or to career advancement.

Working-fathers also made sacrifices, but they came at more of a personal than career cost. Work-life balance was important to them, as their ‘biggest career driver’ were their new families. Some working-fathers also criticised the legal profession stating it was ‘a younger man’s game’ – they said that their priorities now shifted more towards a family-focus and being at home with their families; rather than rain-making for their employers.

In sum, from my research, these smaller law firms and their workforces recognise the importance assigned by its valuable ‘knowledge workers’ to maintaining a ‘work-life balance’. These legal practices thus awarded more prominence to the implementation of flexible-working practices than larger companies.

This smaller company size was felt by employees – especially those with external commitments – to have a more accommodating organisational culture than larger law firms. Despite this, with importance continuously placed on a long-hours culture, building connections and constant networking, lawyers with the highest social capital levels will make the most advances in their careers. These lawyers continue to be of the ‘male, pale and stale’ variety.

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Industrial Strategy and Steel

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Dr Ian Greenwood, Leeds University Business School

With the restructuring of its former ministry for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) into the ministry for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), led by Minister Greg Clark, the government looks to have accepted the idea that an element of coordination of the economy is necessary in order to be able to compete with other industrial nations. The Green Paper on industrial strategy, the consultation period to which ended on 17th April 2017, appears to have consolidated this position.

Although the Green Paper, ‘Building our Industrial Strategy’, proposes that industrial strategy is not about directing the economy, it does, nonetheless, suggest an intent to intervene in the working of the economy. This is in somewhat stark contrast to the position in July 2015 when the then Secretary of State for Business Innovation and Skills, Savid Javid,  informed those desperate for the government to engage with the crisis engulfing the UK steel industry, that he believed in an ‘industrial approach’ for the UK industry rather than an ‘industrial strategy’. It was the deep crisis in steel, that in large measure, through the work of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for steel, that propelled the government to think again about the extent to which strategic intervention in industrial is necessary.

The proposed industrial strategy is to be based on 10 pillars. These are science, research and innovation; skills; infrastructure; business growth and investment; procurement; trade and investment; affordable energy; sectoral policies; driving growth across the whole country; and creating the right institutions to bring together sectors and places. Within an overarching ambition of improving living standards and more balanced growth by increasing productivity, the government sees industrial strategy as necessary for a stronger economy, ‘fairer society’ and development of ‘high paid, high skilled’ jobs. The strategy will, furthermore, reflect active government that moves beyond short term thinking. It will, ‘build on strategic strengths’ and ‘tackle underlying weaknesses’. Industrial strategy is though, to be ‘modern’. This, Clark explains. is not about directing the economy and 1970s style industrial strategy, ‘mistakenly focused’ on existing industries and the big firms within them. New industrial strategy will act to nurture new industries that will ‘challenge and in some cases displace’ existing industries, not to privilege the protection of incumbents. Picking losers as much as winners seems central to this philosophy. In the absence of key supports for manufacturing and energy intensive industries, this might well become a self-fulfilling prophesy.

What might also be cause for concern, however, is that apart from reference to advanced engineering, the aerospace and auto sectors, mention in the Green Paper of the wider manufacturing sector and primary such as steel is scant. Yet an industrial strategy in which industries such as steel are manifestly part, is precisely what is required. This is the case in respect not only of the intrinsic value of such industries, but also precisely because of the vital part played by, for example, steel, in the up and down stream viability of the aerospace and particularly automotive sectors. It is generally accepted that if car manufacturers cannot source around 40% of its materials and components domestically, they will look to relocate offshore. The consequence of this for the UK economy would be calamitous.

Although the importance of the steel industry to the UK has declined, it possesses attributes that are significant for the economy. The industry produces a trade surplus. Its productivity, investment in R&D and training per employees are higher than the general UK economy.  Crucially, the supply value added multiplier is greater than 3, and the employment multiplier is between 2 and 3. The industry has, hence, an important impact on skills, economic demand and employment levels for the country in general and for specific regions in particular.

The steel industry is categorised as a ‘Foundation Industry’. Such industries have been generally characterised as those that underpin the web of strategically important manufacturing and construction supply chains and whose output is largely for supply chain inputs rather than final consumption. As with the steel industry, Foundation industries are essential for the generation of primary value for an economy. They have been assessed to account for 17% of UK manufacturing GVA and 20% of manufacturing employment. Crucially, again as with steel, these industries have higher productivity than the UK economy norm, have relatively high levels of R&D and training per employee.

Academic research explains why it makes economic and social sense for a government to support Foundation industries through a strategy for industry. The reason why economies such as the USA and UK suffer from a defect in R&D and competitiveness, is because of the neglect and outsourcing of these basic industries. Commentators explain how manufacturing industries provide the infrastructure through which skills, R&D and the ability to innovate are nurtured. These are simply crucial for the international competitive success of advanced economies. The outsourcing and decline of manufacturing sets off a chain reaction that is ultimately destructive to the ability of the macro economy to innovate and compete. To address this potential crisis, it has been argued that, ‘government and business must work together to rebuild a country’s ‘industrial commons’, the collective R&D, engineering, and manufacturing capabilities that sustain innovation [and that depends crucially on the existence of a vibrant manufacturing base]. Yet funding of research and encouragement of collaborative R&D initiatives to tackle society’s big problems need to be stepped up. Companies must, furthermore, overhaul their management practices and governance structures in order to avoid making destructive outsourcing decisions.

Geographically skewed to industrial areas of the country such as Wales, the Midlands, Yorkshire and the North East, the steel industry is responsible for the retention of relatively high paid, high skill jobs in areas that are deindustrialising – often with devastating social consequences. When steel plants close or contract, a negative economic equilibrium around a low pay, low skill, and low value added economy is likely to evolve. The economic multipliers associated with the industry are relatively well understood, but what I term the ‘social multiplier’ is no less critical. has clearly demonstrated the negative psychological impact of job loss on steel workers many of whom have spent most, if not all, their working lives in the industry. Transition into work that is often comparatively low paid and low skilled, can be unnerving and demoralising. The strong sense of self-esteem, camaraderie and collective support that typifies steel work is rarely rediscovered.

The Industrial Communities Alliance (ICA), an organisation attempting to develop public policy for the deindustrialised, regions of the UK, such as steel and coal, points out that Britain’s older industrial areas contain around a third of the UK population. These are, though, largely communities ‘left behind’ and getting by on low paid work and benefits. The Alliance therefore supports an industrial strategy designed to rebalance the economy through a shift towards industry, production and exports. The perspective of the ICA is echoed in the analysis presented in the Green Paper which accepts that regional disparities are now wider in the UK than in other western European nations. An industrial strategy is necessary, the Paper contends, to spread growth and wealth more widely across regions, hence creating a fairer society that, in the words of Theresa May will engender, ‘a stronger, fairer Britain that works for everyone, not just the privileged few.’

Research provides strong evidence that wholesale deindustrialisation is not an overdetermined economic phenomenon. Governments can act to shape the nature of their economies. From the coordinated market economy of Germany, to the Developmental State model of Singapore, to the way in which the USA actively intervenes in its trade defence mechanisms, across a range of capitalist economies, evidence for this is clear. What is required is a holistic strategy that endures and connects Foundation Industries to other sectors of the economy – high tech, the service sector and through procurement policy, the public sector – and which involves both employees and their trades unions. Industrial strategy can work. The ideological shibboleths of the political Right cannot be allowed to extinguish this, possibly final chance, for some basic industries, their workers and their communities, to survive and flourish.

Why so-called ‘Barista Visas’ won’t help UK Hospitality Workers

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Matthew Cole

Home Secretary Amber Rudd has recently introduced the idea of a so-called ‘barista visa’, undoubtedly to militate against the potentially disastrous effects of Brexit for UK businesses. The proposal was suggested by Lord Green, chairman of the right-wing think tank Migration Watch UK, who claimed it would, “kill two birds with one stone” by meeting employer needs while “maintaining links with the EU”. By links, he must have meant links to a highly exploitable workforce with no rights. The ‘barista visa’ would allow young European citizens to migrate to the UK and work in the hospitality industry for up to 2 years; however, it would deny them access to benefits, schooling, housing or any possibility of extending their stay. The proposed visa would be modelled on the Tier 5 (youth mobility scheme) visa, which currently allows 18-to-30-year-olds with at least £1,890 in savings from non-E.U. countries such as Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Korea, and Taiwan to work in the U.K. for up to 24 months. Despite the government’s optimism, the ‘barista visa’ would not only fail to offer adequate solutions to Brexit, it would exacerbate issues in the industry for both employer and employees.

The hospitality industry (including hotels, bars, cafes and restaurants) makes a significant contribution to the UK economy. The industry added an estimated £57 billion to the economy in 2014, roughly 4% of GDP and it employs around 3 million people in the UK.  Since 2011, it has grown by 13%, more than double the employment growth of the economy overall. Yet in the context of this dramatic growth, working conditions remain poor. Average gross earnings for full-time workers in the hotel industry are the lowest in the UK and the industry has the highest incidence of low-paid workers. Added to this is its dubious status as one of the least unionised sector of the economy.

Today, the hospitality industry is experiencing increasing instability and pressure as a result of Brexit. Britain leaving the EU will no doubt have serious and lasting impacts on the UK labour market and workers rights. According to the ONS, E.U. nationals make up 7% (2.2 million) of Britain’s total labour market of 30.3 million. However, some industries will be more affected than others and the hospitality – with over 60,000 workers per annum working in this sector – is likely to be one of those feeling the impact of the referendum result. A report by KPMG indicates that hospitality is the largest business sector employer of EU nationals as a proportion of total workforce. Hotels and restaurants employ the highest percentage of EU migrants with certain roles such as waiters and waitresses (75.3% EU nationals), housekeeping staff and chefs representing a particularly high portion of migrants. Based on current projections, the absence of an annual inflow of new EU migrants into the hospitality industry each year would generate a significant recruitment gap, which would increase over time.

Despite it’s moniker the ‘barista visa’ scheme would fail from a business standpoint .The two-year limit alone is reason enough to anticipate this, since it forecloses incentives for training and retaining workers in an industry that is experiencing serious problems with skill shortages and turnover. According to People 1st, turnover in the hospitality industry is estimated at 20 per cent, while the KPMG survey of BHA members puts the estimate even higher, at 50.2 per cent. This costs the industry approximately £274 million annually. The Financial Times, reported that the ‘barista visa’ would also be open to other sectors that are heavily reliant on low-wage migrant labour, such as social care, agriculture, and construction. While the numbers of migrants for each industry will be restricted with an overall cap, there is no guarantee that there would be enough EU migrants who meet the proposed criteria and aim to work in hospitality. Last year, The Times reported that only 40,000 people applied on the existing Tier 5 youth mobility scheme for all industries. This is 20,000 less than the number of EU migrants who gained employment in the hospitality industry alone. Given the strict criteria of the ‘barista visa’ and the fact that the hospitality industry is expanding rapidly the number of EU migrants is likely to fall woefully short of the needs of employers. Combine this with low wages and the rising anti-migrant rhetoric of mainstream political parties and the situation looks dire indeed.

To attempt to lessen the impact of Brexit, BHA members have petitioned the government to retain EU workers and openness for tourism. They recognise how important migrant labour is for their businesses even if they have not necessarily recognised the rights and economic rights of migrants as a whole. The BHA’s focus on the business case for hospitality ignores the concerns of most of its labour force. Historically, they have opposed legislation designed to protect workers’ interests such as the minimum wage legislation in 1999 and tips legislation in 2009. They have also avoided addressing criticisms from trade unionists about issues in the industry. Last year, Unite regional officer Dave Turnbull offered a different explanation of why the industry cannot recruit and retain the type of workers it needs. He cited a fundamentally “flawed, low cost and exploitative business model” in an industry where “low pay, insecure working, exploitation and institutionalised bullying are rife”[1]. The ‘barista visa’ will only exacerbate these problems. It would further entrench divisions in the labour market and further undermine the collective rights of workers. The scheme denies migrants a social safety net and offers no chance to progress in a career or build a life in the U.K. long-term.

The ‘barista visa’ also fails from a worker’s perspective. Labour Force data shows EU nationals are already concentrated in low-paid and lower-level occupations, especially in the hospitality industry. As of 2016, less than 1% of EU nationals in the hospitality industry were employed in the ‘higher managerial and professional’ occupation grouping. The current state of UK labour law weaves issues of migrant rights into the employment relationship, leaving open the potential for employers to terminate their contract which could effectively leave them exposed to deportation. The ‘barista visa’ ultimately will keep EU migrants in a legally subordinate position to nationals, exacerbating the ‘migrant division of labour’[2] and further undermining all working conditions. The further precarisation of migrant labourers in the hospitality industry will at best allow business owners to continue exploitative practices and at worst, further divide workers.

[1] Unite, 2016. Unite in direct plea to London mayor to tackle exploitative work practices in London’s hotel industry. Press Release. http://www.unitetheunion.org/news/unite-in-direct-plea-to-london-mayor-to-tackle-exploitative-work-practices-in-londons-hotel-industry/